!nara / Nara plant of the Namib desert region in NamibiaThe flower of the Acanthosicyos horrridus.Fruit of the Nara / !nara

Family: Cucrbitaceae

Scientific Name: Acanthosicyos horrridus

Common names: Nara, naras, !nara, botter-pitte, omungaraha


Description: Plant grows dioeciously and perennial into a low-growing dense, tangled bush. The stems are longitudinally ridged, stiff, semi-succulent and yellow green in colour. The !Nara appearing leafless (the leaves are actually reduced to small, stiff scales), with tendrils reduced to paired straight spines measuring 2–3 cm long. Male plants bear solitary or fascicled yellowish green flowers, with female plants bear only solitary flowers with a warty inferior ovary. The fruit is round and spiny, with white flesh and the pips resembling pumpkin pips. The main root consisting of a thick woody taproot penetrating up to 12 m deep.

Distribution: Found along the Atlantic coast in the Namib desert regions from north-west South Africa, Namibia to Southern Angola. Widely spread and easily seen at the dune section of Sossusvlei.

Medicinal uses: It is said that a infusion of the root may help for arthritis.

Superstition uses: Non recorded.

Nutritive uses: Fruit and seed edible. Although the fruit possess a high water content, it is very bitter in taste. The fruits are made into a preserve by a traditional process of allowing the raw fruits to soften for a few days before peeling, then boiling until the seeds are loosened and the pulp thickens and turns a dark orange. After separating the seeds, the thick pulp is poured out and allowed to dry in the sun. It solidifies in a few days, forming flat leathery cakes which are then cut into strips or rolled up. These can be stored for months for chewing or adding to porridge. The seeds are also dried in the sun, and then stored for eating or grinding into flour, or used as a substitute for almonds in the confectionery business in Namibia.

Other uses:

Interesting Facts: The Topnaar people living in the Kuiseb river near Walvis Bay in Namibia, has strict rules and possession rights with regard to the !Nara bushes growing on their land. Each family has ownership and use of a few bushes.

Credits: Christian Fourie.